Boone County receives grant to help break cycle of homelessness (Columbia Missourian)

By GABRIELA VELASQUEZ

COLUMBIA — A team effort led to Boone County receiving a technical grant from the Corporation for Supportive Housing to combat repeated imprisonment or jail time among the county's homeless population, Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson said Tuesday afternoon.

The New York-based Corporation for Supportive Housing announced that Boone and three other counties — Salt Lake County in Utah, Clark County in Nevada and McLean County in Illinois — would receive "expert assistance" with collecting and analyzing data to identify those in their communities most in need of supportive housing. This effort is a part of the Pay for Success initiative by the Social Innovation Fund.

Supportive housing "combines affordable housing with services that help people who face the most complex challenges to live with stability, autonomy and dignity," according to a news release from the corporation. Its goal is to take homeless people off the streets and keep them out of jail or prison by reconnecting them with federal benefits to help them secure housing and by providing mental health services if needed.

"If you don't intervene, then you're going to have that circle," Thompson said.

The grant will provide Boone County with $150,000 to $200,000 worth of technical assistance over the course of 12 to 18 months to help local agencies identify those who most need supportive housing. Specifically, experts will provide technical assistance and training to Boone County officials, providers and researchers in best practices for integrating data systems in order to use data to inform county policies.

"You can't help people unless you know who needs the help," MU School of Social Work assistant professor Kelli Canada said.

Kelly Wallis, director of the Boone County Community Services Department, said in the Corporation for Supportive Housing news release that by receiving the grant, "our community will be able to make more informed decisions to use our resources most effectively for positive impact."

Boone County wants to merge local homelessness and criminal justice data to "inform our efforts to break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and imprisonment," Columbia Human Services Manager Steve Hollis said.

Hollis described supportive housing as a "value proposition" for the community.

"The model that we're operating under is called housing first," Hollis said, "which is to say that we're going to decriminalize homelessness and we're simply going to fix homelessness by giving these people a home."

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The housing-first approach, Hollis said, is not only more affordable but it also results in better individual outcomes and "is proven to be cheaper than having people live on the streets and cycle in and out of institutions."

"In the end, no matter which end of the political spectrum you're on, this kind of transcends that," he said.

Long term, Boone County hopes to use the data it collects to apply for a Pay for Success grant and to encourage other agencies, such as prisons, to contribute to their supportive housing efforts.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.